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10 Ways To Have A Rustic Japan Trip

Some travellers prefer the path less travelled – whether that means experiencing deep and authentic culture, going out of the way to see one-of-a-kind natural sights or uncovering the regional spots yet to be discovered by others. If this sounds like you, then experiencing Rustic Japan in the Tohoku (north eastern) region of Japan might be your cup of tea.

Where to start? To make things easy, we’ve gathered 10 ways to have a Rustic Japan trip.

1. Take a dip in a secluded onsen

While a typical trip to Japan might include visiting one of the many onsen (hot springs) that dot the country for a relaxing experience, travellers after a rustic experience can head out to some of the more secluded onsen in Japan. At these onsen you’ll experience a combination of untouched nature and culture that most overseas travellers have yet to encounter.

One hidden gem, Nyuto Onsen, is famous for being discovered by weary samurai, and allows you to relax in the warm hot spring waters, while being surrounded by the silence of the snow covered mountains. If you’re lucky, you might have the outdoor hot spring to yourself. Others like the Tamakawa Onsen, feature hot spring waters famous for their rumoured natural healing effects.

Nyuto Onsen

Closest airport: Akita airport

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How to get there: Nyuto onsen is roughly 2 hours from Akita Airport by the Akita Airport Liner (shared jumbo taxi, reservations required).


2.Visit a samurai’s house

A typical trip to Japan might include samurai experiences, like trying on samurai armour or visiting a samurai themed park. But for a rustic and authentic experience, Kakunodate is where travellers can visit the houses where samurai actually lived (and some of the descendants still do).

Sometimes called ‘Little Kyoto’ because of the traditional atmosphere, the area features preserved architecture dating back to 1620. Take a stroll through town clad in a traditional kimono, ride on a rickshaw or taste some of the food such as okaribayaki eaten by samurai while hunting.


Closest airport: Akita airport

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How to get there: The Kakunodate area is roughly 1 hour by airport liner taxi van (shared jumbo taxi, reservation required) or 35 minutes to Akita station by airport limousine bus followed by 45 minutes to Kakunodate station by train.


3. Visit the samurai’s favourite sake brewery

No trip to Japan is complete without a few lively nights in one of the many restaurant and nightlife districts of Japan’s brightly lit cities. But a truly adventurous traveller might find just as much pleasure visiting a local sake brewery (and see where it all actually comes from!).

Hideyoshi Sake Brewery is a brewery in Akita Prefecture, with over 300 years of history – made famous as sake that has the seal and approval of samurai from the region. Take a tour with the sake master and learn how the region’s famous drink is made.

Hideyoshi Sake Brewery

Closest airport: Akita airport

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How to get there: 35 minutes to Akita station by airport limousine bus followed by 45 minutes to Kakunodate station by train. From the station, the brewery is about 10 minutes by taxi.


4. Trade bright city lights for natural colours

Japan might be known for efficiently run and brightly lit cities – but a rustic trip might call for the beauty of the natural colours of the Tohoku region instead.

Take the Dakigaeri Gorge which features an unforgettable hue of blue that contrasts sharply with the red colour of the kami no iwabashi suspension bridge for a picturesquely Japanese scene. For more breathtaking hues of colour, visit the Maruike sama pond, at the foot of Mt. Chokai. This pond is famous for its emerald green colour, which subtly changes colour according to the light. The pond is known as a spiritual place, hence the addition of the Japanese suffix ‘sama’ to the name of the pond (reserved for addressing a person of respect).

Dakikaeri Gorge

Closest airport: Akita airport

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How to get there: 35 minutes to Akita station by airport limousine bus followed by 45 minutes to Kakunodate station by train. From the station, the gorge is about 10 minutes by taxi.


Maruike-sama (round pond)

Closest airport: Shonai airport

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How to get there: 40 minutes to Sakata station by airport limousine bus followed by 20 minutes to Hukiura station by train. From the station, the pons is about 5 minutes by taxi.


5. Venture into rugged nature

A trip to Japan usually includes a point of awe when you’re surrounded by what seems like a synchronised moving crowd of people in a big city – like Tokyo’s scramble crossing. The rustic Japan experience will have you in awe of the solitude of Japan’s rugged nature – such as the world heritage Shirakami Sanchi, Mt. Chokai or Matsushima.

Both Shirakami Sanchi and Mt. Chokai remain largely untouched by humans and are home to natural trekking paths (registration is needed for some of the more rugged routes). Thirsty? Try drinking fresh water from a bamboo shoot to quench your thirst. For a rugged island adventure, marvel at Matsushima’s 260+ islands, especially beautiful at sunrise and sunset.

Shirakami sanchi

Closest airport: Odate-Noshiro Airport

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How to get there: 2 hours by car from the airport (a rental car is recommended as public transportation is very limited).


6. Train like a monk

Many of the temples you can visit in Japan are super easy to access, just a few minutes’ walk from a nearby train station – you might even stumble across one just walking through a city or town.

However, if you’re after the rustic temple experience, try scaling 2,440 steps to reach Yamadera, a temple with over 1,400 years of history, or following along the sacred pilgrimage trek of Dewa Sanzan. The trek is known to be a part of the rugged ascetic training done by monks of the region.


Closest airport: Yamagata airport

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How to get there: 30 minutes by car from the airport, or 35 minutes to Yamagata station by limousine bus from the airport followed by 20 minutes to Yamadera station by train. The temple is a 5 minute walk from the station.


Dewa Sanzan

Closest airport: Shonai airport

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How to get there: 25 minutes to Tsuruoka Station by limousine bus followed by 50 minutes to Haguroyama by bus.


7. Discover more than just the snow

Many travellers come to Japan for the high quality snow, but snow activities aren’t the same everywhere. It’s not only the quality of snow that differs by region – it’s what you can experience there that also changes.

Zao Onsen ski resort is one of Japan’s oldest onsen (estimated at over 1900 years), discovered by samurai of the day. The hot springs have a strong acidity, which is believed to be good for the skin – giving the springs a reputation for having beautifying properties. Once beautified, you can visit the Zao Fox Village and spend time in a fox oasis with 6 different species of the furry critters. Add on a visit to Appi Kogen for a bit of variety to your rustic snow travels.

Appi Kogen

Closest airport: Odate Noshiro Airport

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How to get there: It takes 30 min to Sendai station by train, 40 min to Morioka station by Shinkansen and 70 min to Appi-kogen station.


Zao fox village

Closest airport: Sendai airport

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How to get there: It takes 30 min to Sendai station by train and takes 30 min the Yakushinoyu by Yakushinoyu shuttle bus. And then takes 20 min to the villeage by Taxi. Or it takes 55 min to Shiraishi station by train. From there you take Castle Kun Bus to the village. (Every Tuesday and Friday)


8. Eat like a local

Any trip to Japan has a big emphasis on food, and trying ‘B-kyu’ (B-grade) gourmet, or cheap and tasty meals, is always a popular activity among tourists.

A rustic experience, however, might have you venturing into local cuisine like Yokote yakisoba – so popular in the region that there’s a yearly Yokote Yakisoba Grand Prix competition in September. If you’re after a bit of adventurous cuisine, any Japanese local will tell you that Sendai is famous for their gyutan or beef tongue (usually grilled), said to have originated at a restaurant in the region in 1948.


Closest airport: Sendai airport


9. Celebrate like a local

Japan has no shortage of cultural festivals and rituals to take part in, but if you’re after an authentic and rustic experience, regional rituals like the Namahage in Akita are some of the most unique.

The ritual has good enough intentions – making sure children behave – but the method of having adults dress up in scary, demon-like costumes and visit neighbourhood houses to scare children into behaving, makes it a sight to see! If scaring children isn’t your cup of tea, check out the Kamifusen-age or Rising of Paper Balloons, a winter festival that lights up the Akita night sky with balloon lanterns.


Closest airport: Akita airport

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How to get there: It takes 40 min to Akita by airport bus and takes 1 hour to Hadachi station by train. 20 min to the museum by taxi from Hadachi station.


10. Stay like a local

There’s no shortage of great accommodation and expertly trained hospitality in Japan, but for a truly rustic experience, trade a western style hotel room for the homey atmosphere of a local bed and breakfast or ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

You might be surrounded by rugged conditions, but you’ll be warmed up by the hearts and hospitality of your hosts as you huddle around the irori, or Japanese hearth.




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